We had been on this trip for over a day, were very tired, hungry and no doubt dirty. My safari suit looked nothing like the one Daktari wore, indeed for all I cared I might have resembled Clarence the cross-eyed lion or Judy the chimpanzee. We just wanted to get to the appropriately named rest house on Victoria Island. Our rather thin and by now, very nervous bank driver had waited for us at the airport. He had been sleeping in the once white Peugeot 504 for over a day now and would not have dared to leave without us. The car bounced over the pot holes along the A1, passing the Star Brewery that hummed with life and light. In the distance, gas flames from the refinery spluttered into the early morning sky and gasoline fumes lay thick in the air. Egrets and cranes flapped lazily from telephone lines. Workers and traders like exhausted refugees followed the caravan of cars, thronging over the bridges. Many pushed long carts heaving with hessian draped sacks, some had collections of crisp white shirts on wire structures, freshly laundered and being returned to the pampered executives on the Island. David was dozing, head sunk deep into his chest, his trip was just about to start.
The road was strewn with rubbish, dogs snapped and snarled at each other, small boys pushed cones of peanuts, plastic flowers and biros in bundles to the car window. All life was here as if on show for us. Muslims, wearing brilliant white thobes and skull caps padded in tandem alongside the cars that had slowed due to cows on the road. Many in the throng seemed to be smoking, some chewed sticks that were shredded and damp. Others carried transistor radios that balanced on shoulders and blared out Fela Kuti and Sonny Okosun, lively and enthusiastic jazz even at this early hour. All were joyful in their labours with tombstone white teeth flashing smiles, hands always glancing against others in happy recognition. I felt the energy in this financially polarised place, and at ease with what might lie ahead. We rattled over a cattle grid to the guard room of the gated community that was home to the expatriates of Victoria Island. We were waved through, leaving behind the hell of lower Lagos into a quiet green reserve.
All the houses were built of breeze blocks with spiky Bermuda grass lawns and tall palms. Birds chirped and swirled at each other, house-boys shuffled along the verges with small dogs on leads and gardeners swept the night’s leaves away into piles. Sprinklers leveled the dust and it was quiet. A couple of well tanned men jogged past, hardly breaking a sweat. I nudged David as we stopped outside a large house. It had green shutters, the garden walls were overflowing with blooming bougainvillea. The steward wrenched the car door open and we were escorted past an inviting pool into the cool marbled hall. It seemed that he had lined up his entire family, six boys bug-eyed with bulging stomachs stood in silence and at a command scampered off.
‘Welcome sah,’ he started, ‘welcome to the bank house.’ His clammy hand clasped ours and the allocated rooms were presented. Each had an air conditioning unit that fought the heat from outside. Mosquito netting was draped like a bridal veil over the bed. Another steward had appeared and was busy taking everything out of my suitcase, including my dinner jacket and silver backed hair brushes. I shooed him away from his task and really needed a swim. I changed into my trunks, the safari suit had collapsed into an indeterminate pile and in a few minutes was in the pool looking up into the deep blue sky. I thought I was dreaming and resting my arms on the side watched in amazement as the other steward was washing my suit in a bucket and scrubbing away the dirt with a brush. It seemed to flash like a Morse code lamp in the sunlight. But of course it did, he was using my silver hair brush.
I was too tired to care. We had a day to prepare for the big event of teaching the Savannah Bank the intricacies of the financial system over a few weeks. I had told David we would be home in four days, knowing well that time in Africa ticks slowly, like the shuffling masses crossing the Apongbon Bridge to the Island, so I was prepared for quite a trip.